What The Mueller Report Is And Isn’t

I am skipping over the memo by Attorney General William Barr to wait for the full Mueller report before I start parsing sentences and paragraphs.

I would like to remind us all of Rod Rosenstein’s charge to Robert Mueller as special counsel. Here is the meat of it.

Special Counsel Charge

The scope was open and potentially wide ranging. But time was important – The report needed to come out before the 2020 election campaign to avoid the mess that Comey stumbled into in 2016. It seems reasonable for Mueller to have defined his scope tightly. Read More

Mike Flynn’s Nuclear Adventure – The Plan

The plans offered by ACU and IP3, the companies working with Michael Flynn on a scheme to sell reactors to Saudi Arabia, have many problems. Some, perhaps all, of those problems may arise from naivete about the nuclear industry and the regulations surrounding it. Looking at the plans and how they changed over time may help in understanding what these companies were doing. Read More

A Quick Post On Selling Nuclear Technology To The Saudis

Big news this morning about the continuing pressure to sell nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia. Ken Dilanian was the first with the story, and Washington Post is catching up. Like a lot of stories about the Trump administration’s dicey connections with foreign governments, it adds some new information to a story that I’ve been following for a long time.

The current emphasis is that Saudi Arabia (which I’ll refer to as KSA) wants a nuclear program that might eventually be used to produce weapons. That misses a lot. Michael Flynn was trying to sell nuclear technology to the Saudis for quite some time. That attempt has continued. I have a copy of the report from the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, but what I want to do here is discuss the context of the actions described there. This post will be a quick outline, without most of the links it should have. Read More

On The Lack Of Analytical Utility Of The Concept Of Deterrence

With the US withdrawal from the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty, we will be hearing more about deterrence. That word is used far too broadly, muddying discussions of military strategy and focusing discussions of war and peace too narrowly.

As the Cold War progressed from open competition for bigger bombs in the 1950s, through the terror of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the realization that Ronald Reagan expressed so nicely, “A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought,” slowly formed, although seldom expressed openly by the governments of the United States or the Soviet Union. Nuclear war became more unthinkable, and communication and arms control measures were instituted to make it less likely.

That uneasy standoff continued through the fall of the Soviet Union. It is often attributed solely to both countries’ possession of enough nuclear weapons to destroy the other, that rough equality called deterrence. But there are many other reasons to avoid nuclear war, like developing a country’s economy and attending to other areas of instability. When those reasons are left out, discussions of strategy are distorted. Read More

Unweaving The Tangled Web

Over the weekend, Will Bunch did a great tweet stream linking Jeff Bezos, National Enquirer, the Saudis, Jamal Khashoggi, and Donald Trump, along with others. He promised he would put it into a column, and here it is. It’s more cautious than the tweet stream, but fairly interesting. He introduces a number of possibilities by asking questions, a relatively safe way to introduce thoughts that you don’t have journalistic confirmation for. They are good questions, worth keeping in mind as things proceed. Read More

The Fourth National Climate Assessment

Friday afternoon the government released its Fourth National Climate Assessment, mandated by Congress. Friday afternoon of the four-day weekend, of course, is a good time to bury it. But we’ve become accustomed to these tactics, and the report did not go unnoticed.

Thirteen government agencies contributed. The report looks solid, an indication that Donald Trump and his climate deniers couldn’t mess with the agencies’ mandates. This is a pattern that has shown up before in sanctions against Russia. Trump tweets one thing, his political appointees toe his line, and the agencies do their job. It’s encouraging that parts of the government can do their jobs. Read More

Soviet Days Of August

There is a cluster of days, starting with today, in 1991 and before which were fateful for the Soviet Union.

August 23, 1939: Foreign Ministers Vyacheslav Molotov (Soviet Union) and Joachim von Ribbentrop (Germany) signed an agreement not to go to war against each other. It included a secret protocol in which the two countries divided up the territories between them: Finland, Poland, the Baltic States, Romania, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia. Germany invaded Poland in September, and the Soviet Union invaded Finland in November. That was the start of World War II. The Soviet Union took the Baltic states in June 1940, but a year later, Germany invaded them. In 1944, the Soviets returned to drive the Germans out.

August 23, 1989: People in the Baltic states, now republics of the Soviet Union, formed a chain, holding hands from Tallinn to Vilnius to protest the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. At that time, the Soviet Union refused to recognize that the secret protocol to the pact existed. Although the Baltic states were under Soviet rule, most other nations did not recognize this and dealt with Baltic governments in exile. This is the situation now with the Russian occupation of Crimea. Mikhail Gorbachev was First Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party, and there was unrest across the Soviet Union and its satellites. In October, Gorbachev gave the satellite countries (Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, and East Germany) autonomy from Soviet Communist rule.

August 19, 1991: Soviet military personnel stage a coup against Gorbachev. Lithuania had declared independence in March 1990, and several other Soviet republics were moving toward independence. Gorbachev was considering liberalizing the Soviet constitution to allow more freedom to the republics. The coup plotters felt that Gorbachev was betraying the Soviet Union. Gorbachev was weakened, and Boris Yeltsin, the president of the Russian Republic, strengthened himself politically by standing against the plotters. The coup failed, but it assured the end of the Soviet Union. Over the next several days, Latvia, Estonia, and most of the other republics declared independence. (New York Times, BBC, Association for Diplomatic Studies) Through the next months, other republics declared independence, and finally, on December 25, the Soviet Union was formally dissolved.


Cross-posted to Balloon Juice.



We Still Don’t Know

It is almost a week, and we have no reliable information about the meeting between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin.

Trump and Putin spent two and a half hours together in Helsinki with no note-takers, no expert advice, only their interpreters. We have no record of what happened during those two and a half hours, no record of what either man said or may have promised.

The standard practice to have note-takers in such a meeting is because the president is not representing himself, but rather the country. It’s important to have notes because memories of a meeting may be inaccurate or the other party may dispute them.

Engagement in serious discussion precludes note-taking or even forming a coherent memory of all the things said and done. A competent interlocutor pays attention to what the other party is saying and thinks about what s/he will say, informed by recall of materials studied before the meeting. Read More

What Might We Learn From North Korea’s Nuclear Test Site?

Kim Jong Un announced that he would close North Korea’s nuclear test site. The Trump administration has greeted this announcement as part of its success in dealing with North Korea.

But North Korea may be doing less than Trump thinks. Read More